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The Rum Diary

An entertaining take on the formative years of famed Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
By Tom Glasson
March 05, 2012
By Tom Glasson
March 05, 2012

The 'Too-Much-Fun Club'. That was the name given by legendary writer and journalist Hunter S. Thompson to his 11-year friendship with actor Johnny Depp. Until Thompson's death in 2005, the duo regularly embarked upon wild and impromptu adventures — almost always at Thompson's behest — during which time Depp says he developed a profound love and respect for the man he considered as much a mentor and brother as a friend. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) was Depp's first tribute to that relationship and offered up a performance as captivating as it was respectful and understanding. Now, in 2012, he's revisited his beloved confidant's character in The Rum Diary, an alcohol-charged journalistic escapade through Puerto Rico in 1960.

Based on Thompson's semi-autobiographical second novel, The Rum Diary casts Depp as Paul Kemp, an inebriate reporter determined to expose the corrupt and exploitative US corporations despoiling the region only to instead end up writing horoscopes under the pseudonym 'Madame La Zonga'. Kemp quickly finds himself torn between two hedonistic temptations: the rum-fuelled anarchy of his fellow journalists (particularly the almost unrecognisable Giovanni Ribisi) or the waterfront luxury and beautiful fiancee of local real-estate swindler Hal (Aaron Eckhart).

In many ways The Rum Diary functions almost as an origin story for the now renowned Hunter S. Thompson persona, a Fear and Loathing reboot that seeks to explain as much as entertain. Speaking of his approach to the role, Depp explained, "Raoul Duke is the fully realized Hunter Thompson, and this character, Paul Kemp, is the Hunter teetering on locating that voice, pre-Gonzo."

It makes for some compelling viewing; however, just as Thompson was lost until the discovery of his own voice, The Rum Diary never quite settles on what kind of film it's meant to be. Part-comedy, part-romance, it moves in fits and starts without ever gaining full-blown momentum. There are numerous laugh-out-loud moments as well as some classic Gonzo zingers ("I put the bastards of the world on notice that I do not have their best interests at heart"), but — perhaps fittingly — Bruce Robinson's film only ever feels like a paler shade of both the legacy and the individual that Thompson's story ultimately gave birth to.

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